The 7 Worst Things About Being a Male
The psychological burdens of carrying around a Y chromosome.
Posted Jan 29, 2012
The cultural stereotype is that it's great to be a man. Not only do we have shorter lines at the restroom, but we make scads more money and can reach things on higher shelves in the marketplace. We don't have to deal with double standards or glass ceilings, and we're raised to have confidence and high self-esteem, so we can all comfortably act like the Sean Connery version of James Bond. Cooly knock off a few bad guys in the afternoon, then drive our Aston Martins to our expensive hotel in Monte Carlo, where beautiful movie actresses are waiting to throw themselves into our arms.
But in truth, it ain't like that down here in Kansas.
Here are some simple facts about what it's really like to be a regular good ol' boy:
1. People want to hurt you. I have less than fond memories of the black eyes and swollen lips I suffered at the hands of various bullies as a young man. Or the nervous feeling in my stomach all afternoon when some would-be tough guy challenged me with the classic line: "After school, punk!" When I should have been studying for my math exams in high school, my mind was often filled instead with thoughts about how to avoid some bully in one of my classes, and whether the best strategy was to stare him down or make a self-diminishing joke, allowing him to establish his dominance at the expense of my acting submissive. But except for a few minor injuries and years of anxiety, I got off easy. If you go hang around almost any emergency room in any reasonably sized city, you will see a steady stream of young males staggering in, or being wheeled in, with knife wounds, gunshot wounds, gashes from broken bottles, or fractured skulls from baseball bats aimed at their heads. And as Martin Daly and Margo Wilson pointed out in their classic book Homicide, crime statistics from any year taken at random, from any society throughout history, reveal that men are many times more likely to be murdered than are women. The perpetrators are more likely to be males than females, but even when the usually more peaceful sex decides to murder, her victim is much more likely to be a man.
A couple of decades ago, Virgil Sheets and I asked college students whether they'd ever considered committing a homicide. A surprising majority had. And who were the fantasized victims of those homicidal fantasies? When either a woman or a man thought of killing someone, the intended victim was usually a man. Some of those men who get beat up and killed, you might argue, deserved it. Compared to nice guys, wife-beaters or bullies are no doubt somewhat more likely to get killed, often by their self-defending victims. But most homicides and assaults do not involve self-defense, and many involve victims who are completely blameless. I was once purposely bumped by a muscular little guy in a bar, and chose to ignore it; but he was looking for a fight, and the next guy down the bar was a big motorcyclist, who told him to watch where he was going, for which said biker was quickly beaten and kicked into a bloody mess by the pushy (and apparently tough) young punk.
2. You have problems controlling your impulses. For years I taught students about psychological disorders in my classes on general and abnormal psychology. Whilst preparing my lectures, I was not shocked to discover that men are overwhelmingly represented in several diagnostic categories, sometimes called "impulse control disorders"—predilections that lead to alcohol and drug abuse, sexual misbehaviors of various kinds, violent outbursts, delinquency, problems holding down a job, and an overrepresentation in almost all categories of criminal activity (with consequent overrepresentation in arrest records and prison terms). Prostitution is one of the few crimes for which women are more likely to be arrested, but that's likely because women are much less likely to pay for sex, a topic to which I'll turn next.
3. For a good portion of your life, you have an irrationally and self-destructively high desire for sex. By a "good portion" of your life, I mean two things: broadly, several decades between the teens and the 50s, and more proximately, many times a day during those long decades. One researcher found that among men between the ages of 18 and 25, fully 50 percent had thought about sex in the last five minutes. Among men between 26 and 55, "only" 25 percent were unable to go five minutes without thinking about sex. At the ripe old age of 63, I have a lot more productive thinking time (I often have whole half-hours uninterrupted by these distracting thoughts). When Kinsey did his classic surveys of sexual behavior, he found that men masturbated more frequently (only five percent said they never masturbated, and some people wonder if those guys were telling the truth). Kinsey also found that men were dangerously polysexual—he estimated that 40 to 50 percent of guys who grew up on farms had had sex with a nonhuman partner (cows and sheep must be more attractive than the squirrels and English sparrows we had in New York). Then there's that rather shocking classic study by Clark and Hatfield which involved the line: "Excuse me, I've seen you around campus and find you very attractive. Would you like to go to bed with me?" (controls were asked if they'd like to go on a date). Around 50 percent of the college men said yes to the date, but over 70 percent were willing to go to bed with her. Those who turned her down were both thankful for the offer and apologetic about saying no.
4. If you are heterosexual, those sexual partners you desire so much do not reciprocate your urgency. Clark and Hatfield also had college men approach college women on campus using the same lines. The guys were reasonably attractive, as judged by the fact that over 50 percent of the women said "yes" to the request for a date. But the number of women who said yes to the sexual offer was precisely zero (the study was done twice, both before and after the AIDS epidemic, and the number was zero before as well as after). I heard a talk recently which revealed that it's not all about sex at all—the researcher discovered that if women were not afraid of men, if women found men attractive, and if women thought they'd have more fun in bed with a strange man, the sex difference would go away! The researcher seemed to take the findings as a blow to what she called "essentialism." Perhaps that's good news for Brad Pitt. But unfortunately, most real women essentially find most real men rather scary, unattractive, and unsexy, and they consequently say "no."
5. You feel compelled to make money, and then to throw it away in public. Men do make higher incomes than women, but it's not just because of discrimination against women and glass ceilings. It's also in part because men are more willing to take stressful and dangerous jobs, work long hours, and ignore their friends and families in pursuit of the mighty buck. When men are in a mating frame of mind, they're more likely to ignore possible losses and go all out for the cash. They're also more likely to steal, cheat, and engage in various criminal activities for money (from small-time drug dealers to big-time Wall Street swindlers, Y chromosomes are the rule rather than the exception). When people in a study by Jill Sundie and colleagues were asked to think of someone they know who likes to shop, they were more likely to think of a woman. But when they were asked to think of someone they knew who spent their money in a conspicuous way, they thought of a man. And consistent with No. 4 above, mating motivation makes that worse. When men are thinking about attractive women, they are more likely to throw their money away, in ways designed to say "look at me."
Indeed, the desire to find mates inspires men to show off in various and sundry ways, to take various kinds of risks, and to make a fool out of themselves in diverse ways. I've discussed some of the research on this sad phenomenon in previous posts (see below).
6. You have a hard time getting social support for all these problems. Men prefer women as friends, perhaps because women are more likely to express social support and to talk about relationships instead of cars and baseball scores (see, for example, Barbee et al., 1993, or Bank & Hansford, 2000). But once again, women don't reciprocate men's platonic interests in friendship either. Women prefer other women as friends. So it can be lonely out there amongst the gangs of other male hooligans looking to steal your baseball cards and then beat you up.
7. And then you die (younger). Even if you get through your extended adolescence without dying in jail, killing yourself during some show-off stunt, or getting yourself shot for flirting with some other guy's girlfriend, you still die younger. Good old testosterone, that same beloved hormone that inspires irrational competition, foolhardy risk, and sexual obsession, also shortens your life. And it gets a boost from all the extra drinking, smoking, and other self-abuses that accompany its direct effects.
If you're a woman, you may point out that it's no party having to put up with those sexually obsessed angry competitive show-offs. I'd agree that's a reasonable argument. But at least you get to live a few extra years, in peace.
The saddest part is that I didn't just make this all up. There's hard data on how hard it is to be a man other than James Bond. Below you'll find a small sample of the references documenting the sad plight of those of us handicapped with a Y chromosome (for the other side of the story, see The 7 BEST Things About Being a Male.)
Douglas T. Kenrick is the author of Sex, Murder, and the Meaning of Life: A psychologist investigates how evolution, cognition, and complexity are revolutionizing our view of human nature. The book discusses the psychology of sex differences and similarities, among other less profound topics, such as the meaning of life. His new book, just released in September 2013, is: The Rational Animal: How evolution made us smarter than we think. Check out this three-minute video in which he and coauthor Vlad Griskevicius discuss the book's two main themes.
- The 7 BEST things about being a male. I wrote this in response to commentators who accused me of whining and thought I was suggesting men had it worse than women.
- How a passing mood can profoundly alter your economic decisions. Includes a link to a cool video on sex differences in economic risk, prepared by my talented son David Lundberg Kenrick.
- The cost of a woman vs. the cost of a man. Dowry, brideprice, and prostitution.
- Never tell a woman you love her (unless...)
- Deep rationality II: Conspicuous consumption as a mating strategy
- Have you have had a homicidal fantasy today?
Bank, B. J., & Hansford, S. L. (2000). Gender and friendship: Why are men's best same-sex friendships less intimate and supportive? Personal Relationship, 7, 63-78.
Barbee, A. P., Cunningham, M. R., Winstead, B. A., Derlega, V. J., Gulley, M. R., Yankeelov, P. A., & Druen, P. B. (1993). Effects of gender role expectations on the social support process. Journal of Social Issues, 49, 175-190.
Becker, D.V., Kenrick, D.T., Neuberg, S.L., Blackwell, K.C., & Smith, D.M. (2007). The confounded nature of angry men and happy women. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 179-190.
Clark, R.D., & Hatfield, E. (1989). Gender differences in receptivity to sexual offers. Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality, 2,39-55.
Daly, M. & Wilson, M. (1988). Homicide. New York: Adine de Gruyter.
Kenrick, D.T. (2011). Sex, Murder, and the Meaning of Life: A psychologist investigates how evolution, cognition, and complexity are revolutionizing our view of human nature. New York: Basic Books.
Kenrick, D.T., & Sheets, V. (1994). Homicidal fantasies. Ethology and Sociobiology, 14, 231-246.
Geary, D.C. (1998). Male, Female: The evolution of human sex differences. Washington, D.C.: APA Books.
Griskevicius, V., Goldstein, N., Mortensen, C., Cialdini, R.B., & Kenrick, D.T. (2006). Going along versus going alone: When fundamental motives facilitate strategic (non)conformity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91, 281-294.
Sundie, J.M., Kenrick, D.T., Griskevicius, V., Tybur, J., Vohs, K., & Beal, D.J. (2011). Peacocks, Porsches, and Thorsten Veblen: Conspicuous consumption as a sexual signaling system. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 100, 664-680
Wilson, M. & Daly, M. (1985). Competitiveness, risk-taking, and violence: The young male syndrome. Ethology and Sociobiology, 6, 59-73.